On 09 February 2011 the Turkish Sunday’s Zaman newspaper published the results of a poll, which concluded that there was ‘no strong ethnic polarisation in Turkey.’ The results were gleaned from a survey aimed at learning about the perceptions of respondents regarding the relations between Turks and Kurds in Turkey.
The survey was carried out by Associate Professor Zeynep Karahan Uslu (University of Economics and Technology), and Associate Professor Can Bilgili (Yeditepe University). All of the 829 respondents to the survey were readers of either the Zaman, Cumhuriyet or Hürriyet dailies and all lived in Ankara.
Hürriyet is a strongly nationalistic, pro-army, pro-state, and pro-secular paper. Hürriyet was established in 1948 by the Simavi family and is presently owned by the Doğan Media Group. It is one of the country’s top circulation newspapers.
Cumhuriyet is leftist, strongly nationalistic, and secularist, critical of both the Fethullah Gülen sect and the AKP government. It has also become deeply critical of the army leadership’s unwillingness to take forceful action against the Islamists, even though it has long been considered a strongly pro-army paper. The Nadi family started publishing Cumhuriyet in 1924.
Zaman was founded in 1986 as the first newspaper established by the Fethullah Gülen Group. It is supportive of the AKP government while being critical of the MHP and CHP. Today’s Zaman, which is published by the Zaman newspaper for foreign readers, is supportive of the AKP government and of moderate Islam as propounded by Fethullah Gülen. Today’s Zaman was launched in early 2007 as an adjunct to Zaman to secure a niche in the English-language media.
The survey asked a series of leading, misguided questions to Turkish readers to reach the conclusion that basically there is no real division amongst Turks and Kurds in Turkey.
Kurdistan Commentary decided to use the same questions and poll its readers to see if it could replicate the results reported by Uslu and Bilgili.
The poll asked respondents to select whether or not they agreed with the statement using the following scale:
0. No answer, 1. Strongly disagree, 2. Disagree, 3. Neither agree not disagree, 4. Agree, 5. Strongly agree.
Here are the statements used in our survey. In statement number five we changed Kurds to Turks. Statement number six was not part of the Uslu/Bilgili survey. Otherwise the statements are the same as they appeared in the Uslu/Bilgili survey.
1. Kurds and Turks have been brothers for a thousand years.
2. Kurds, but for a small number of members of terrorist organisations, are loyal to Turkey.
3. Steps should be taken in the field of democracy and human rights as well as producing economic and social projects for the settlement of the Kurdish question.
4. Kurds are an inseparable part of Turkey.
5. I support the idea of being close friends with Turks.
6. I am: Kurdish-Turkish-Both-Neither
We did not get the same response rate as the original survey, of course. We had about 60 responses for each question. The questions were not tied together, and some respondents did not answer all the questions. Responses of ‘no answer’ were not counted.
The results show a clear difference in what our readers think and those of the survey carried out amongst the readers of Zaman, Cumhuriyet or Hürriyet. Our sample may not be statistically significant, but if offers a different perspective.
For the first question asking if Turks and Kurds are brothers, the three newspapers had results between ‘neither agree or disagree’ and ‘agree’. Kurdistan Commentary readers had an average of 1.92, which indicates disagreement. In fact, 50% of those who responded chose ‘strongly disagree.’
In questions 2 (Kurds loyal to Turkey) and 4 (Kurds inseparable part of Turkey) the same pattern emerges with readers of the three Turkish newspapers polling between ambivalence and weak agreement, while Kurdistan Commentary readers show clear disagreement. In Question 2, 58% of Kurdistan Commentary respondents chose ‘strongly disagree’ and 74% chose ‘strongly disagree’ for Question 4.
In Question 5, we changed one word to ask our readers whether they support the idea of being friends with Turks, whereas the original question (written for Turks) asked if they supported the idea of being friends with Kurds. It is in this question that the answers are most evenly distributed (strong disagree=17, disagree=10, neither agree nor disagree=11, agree=14, strongly agree=7). So friends, maybe. Brothers, definitely not.
Question 3 was the only statement where there was some agreement amongst their respondents and ours. This statement said: ‘Steps should be taken in the field of democracy and human rights as well as producing economic and social projects for the settlement of the Kurdish question.’ Responses from the three Turkish newspapers for this question were higher than for the other questions (3.89, 4.07, 4.23), showing more than the lukewarm agreement of the other statements in their survey.
Kurdistan Commentary readers, however, polled at an average of 4.59, showing far stronger agreement with this statement. In fact, 48 of 61 (just under 79%) selected ‘strongly agree’ for this statement.
While there is a minor difference in numbers, the general feeling seems to be that most agree that more emphasis needs to be placed on democracy and human rights.
Of the 65 who answered question number six, 54 self identified as Kurdish (83%), 3 as Turkish, 1 as both, and 7 as neither.
Overall, there is a clear divergence in the responses between the two groups: theirs and ours. Kurdistan Commentary does not think that Uslu and Bilgili’s survey adequately captured the national mood in regards to relations between Turks and Kurds. It is presumptuous of them to conclude that ethnic polarisation does not exist based solely on these findings.